I Am Not a Tourist Here

With my blue plaid skirt and white blouse paired with my dark leggings and pink converse sneakers, I stuck out like a sore thumb on the bus to school each morning in Lima. Everyone wore uniforms to school in Peru, but my international school was not as strict as most others who required black shoes with white socks pulled up tight. My pale white skin, blue eyes and light brown hair were a stark contrast to my peers with their brown eyes, olive toned skin and thick dark hair pulled back into braids.

The buses were packed with uniformed students each morning. When you thought it was full, they would push more people in. Navy blue skirts and slacks and white stockings all squished together becoming one. The squeals from girls laughing as they gossiped were almost overpowered by the constant honking outside.

I liked to think that I blended in with those girls. I would try to listen in on their conversations to see what Spanish words I could pick up. I ignored the stares my dad and I received every time we got on the bus. I knew that people could look at us and know we were not from there, yet I tried desperately to fit in in this place that I called home.

My favorite ice cream shop, Laritza D’, was in a nice shopping mall set into the cliffs along the coast of Lima. Many tourists frequented this mall. One evening a group of my friends and I went to Laritza D’, and while looking at the array of flavors and choices, an American man walked up to tell me how to order and that the employees knew a little bit of English. He assumed I was a tourist like him. I nodded at him, then turned around and proceeded to order in Spanish. I took my ice cream and walked away, wishing I didn’t look so out of place.

Even when I did all I could to fit in, sometimes those efforts were disregarded. Taxi drivers would occasionally respond to me in the little English they knew even when I spoke to them in Spanish, assuming I would not understand their native responses. The hosts at restaurants would automatically give me an English menu, and when I asked vendors at the market the cost of something in Spanish, they would respond with holding up their fingers for the amount or by saying it in English.

My life has always been going to new places where I seem to stand out in one way or the other: whether it’s the way I look, the way I talk, or just being the new girl in a room full of people who already know each other. This is ironic because I don’t like to draw attention to myself; I like to blend in. When I was younger, whether or not I fit in concerned me greatly. If I could give my teenage self some advice, I would tell her to be gentle on herself and to let go of caring so much about what other people think. Even now I still have to remind myself of this daily.

However, the beauty of being the new girl and constantly moving is that in each place, you can reinvent yourself a little bit. I’ve found that it’s easier to grow and change with each new place I move, than to resist it. When you’re pushed outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis, you evolve, and when you are meeting new people with different ideas and new perspectives, they challenge you. With each move, I’ve learned so much about myself and I’ve also learned how to become a better version of myself. Now, even if it confuses others from time to time, at least I know that I am not a tourist here.